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Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) – information for teachers

Did you know that DLD is predicted to affect 7.6% of children and young people in the general population?

This is more common than autism, however, DLD is not as widely known about.

What is DLD?

A face looking confused with a question mark

DLD stands for Developmental Language Disorder. Having DLD means that you have significant, ongoing difficulties understanding and or using spoken language, in all the languages you use. DLD was previously known as Specific Language Impairment (SLI).

There is no known cause of DLD which can make it hard to explain.

A child or young person with DLD may also have other difficulties, such as, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia and or speech sound difficulties.

DLD is not caused by other medical conditions, such as, hearing loss, physical impairment, Autism, severe learning difficulties or brain injuries. However, these children and young people with these difficulties may also have a Language Disorder.

What are the signs a child or young person has DLD?

one person helping another

A child or young person may have difficulty with:

  • Understanding instructions and information.
  • Vocabulary or finding words.
  • Understanding puns, idioms, jokes, sarcasm, slang and non-literal language, for example, keep an eye on it, give me a hand.
  • Thinking flexibly.
  • Remembering what has been said.
  • Paying attention in class.
  • Learning to read and de-code texts.
  • Making friends and maintaining friendships.
  • Understanding and managing emotions.
  • Telling narratives. For example, saying what they did during the day or what happened at break time.

How will DLD affect the child in the classroom?

a face looking confused with a question mark

  • DLD is a long term condition that can have a big impact on a child’s learning and achievement at school.
  • Children with DLD are at risk of reading difficulties when they reach school age.
  • Sometimes DLD can affect children’s social interaction skills and their ability to make and keep friends.
  • Children with DLD usually learn and understand better through visual and or practical methods, rather than verbal methods. For example, they may understand a story better if they watched it being acted out, or learnt it through multisensory experience.
  • Children with DLD may have strengths in more practical subjects such as Physical Education, Design and Technology and Art, or visual problem solving tasks.

How can I support the child with DLD in class?

A smiling face with a hand pointing and a thought bubble with an exclamation point inside

Get the child’s attention and say their name before asking questions or giving instruction so they know they have to listen.

3 symbols on a page

Use visuals as visual cues (such as objects, gestures, symbols, pictures, demonstrations and acting things out) will help them understand and remember information.

one big square next to one small square

Use simple sentences and short instructions  as keeping the information short and simple will help the child understand it and remember it.

know and understand

Check they have understood instructions or new information.

one person helping another

Pre teach new vocabulary for curriculum work.


Give the child time as the child may need more time to think, find their words and express themselves.

green tick

Praise their effort and acknowledge what they have to said, to support their confidence in speaking.

Two people facing opposite one is pointing to a sheet of paper with different colours the other is clapping his hands

Encourage the child to communicate with you however they can, accept gesture, pointing, and facial expression.

Support their friendships and social times as well as their learning – keep all staff informed about their difficulties and support that may be needed eg lunchtime supervisors, cover teachers.

Additional resources and information

DLD Training on Learn Sheffield:

  • Introductory Module
  • Vocabulary Module

DLD resources directory

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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